No-code development has been slowly making its way into enterprise settings for more than a decade, but only lately has it begun to enter the mainstream. As the need for rapid software upgrades and continuous integration/continuous development (CI/CD) takes shape, organizations are desperately looking for an inexpensive, high-speed way to push new services into the workplace.
But while no-code, and its sister framework low-code, has the potential to vastly increase the pace and diversity of software development, pretty much by turning anybody into a developer, is it really ready for production environments? (Read also: How Low Code Development Will Bring Data Science to the Masses.)
What is No-Code Development?
Put simply, no-code is the ability to create software products using drag-and-drop icons and intuitive, simple sentences and phrases instead of the rarified coding languages that programmers must master. In this way, business executives, office workers, factory workers and others can create their own solutions to digital problems, and then share them with others.
Despite its fairly long history, no-code is still largely unknown in the business community. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 knowledge workers in multiple industries conducted by FormStack, less than 20 percent of respondents knew how to properly define no-code, even though more than a third were able to identify some of the no-code platforms already on the market. Part of the disconnect may be due to the fact that the term "no-code", this is a bit misleading. Although the so-called non-developer might not deal with the actual code, code is definitely there, it’s just that they don’t have get to see it.
This is not necessarily a bad thing because it shows how no-code is making inroads into the enterprise without a formalized deployment effort. People start using it simply because it makes their jobs easier. This can be highly beneficial to organizations, particularly those that are undergoing the complex process known as digital transformation. Not only will organizations see greater efficiency in both critical and non-critical processes, but the pace of innovation should increase dramatically even as the cost of development goes down.
The challenge, of course, will be maintaining proper policy, security and other controls on this new form of software creation. As CMS Wire’s David Roe noted recently, an effective strategy is to create a “fusion developer team” made up of no/low-code developers and IT professionals who know the ins and outs of deploying applications. In this way, you get the benefit of robust applications created by the very people who need them coupled with the ability to integrate them properly into the workplace.
To ensure security issues are addressed, full testing should still take place in this framework. This would cover non-functional testing (NFT), Integration Testing and Pen-testing, and be conducted prior to any operational deployment.
No/low-code should also benefit greatly from the new forms of automation and artificial intelligence entering the channel. Natural language processing, for one, allows machines to understand human speech, opening up the possibility that whenever someone wants a new kind of digital process or function, all they have to do is ask for it. (Read also: Automation: The Future of Data Science and Machine Learning?)
Is No-Code the Future?
Microsoft is already working on these kinds of solutions in conjunction with the GitHub developer community. Microsoft’s Power Apps platform is low-code at the moment, but Converge360’s David Ramel thinks it will migrate to no-code as part of the company’s effort to generate AI tools that write their own code. The company is working to integrate the GPT-3 natural language processing module into Power Apps, allowing users to describe what they want in simple language so that the app will produce a list of relevant formulas.
The system is being tailored to work with formulas created under GitHub’s Power Fx project to support canvas-based apps that feature a more drag-and-drop style of development rather than the traditional model-based approach.
All of this points up the fact that no/low-code is not merely another step in software development, but a dramatic shift in the functioning and economics of the enterprise. With development democratized in this way, the direct cost of development should come way down even as the economy of scale for each new program improves. This means software development and support will no longer be a major cost center, and many organizations might be able to turn new software products into revenue-generators.
Muzammil Patel, global head of strategies and corporate finance at Acies Acquisition Group, suggests the overall impact on enterprise software costs could amount to a 50 percent reduction or more. Not only is the development cycle shortened and streamlined to a significant degree, but ongoing support, particularly change management, can be pared down as well. (Read also: Diving into Dev: The Software Development Life Cycle)
However, in highly regulated environments such as Financial, Health or Energy and Defense, some aspects must not be pared down. Change management will always be an important safeguard. To ensure safe and secure implementations, a Secure-Software Development Life-Cycle (S-SDLC) must always be adhered to. This is regardless of whether traditional code development is used or no-code/low code
There are also tangential benefits. As organizations like banks shift resources away from software and more to their core business processes, business will likely expand and profits will rise.
It’s important to know who has created the code that sits inside these no-code module repositories. Ensure they been created by a trustworthy source and are appropriately tested. As the security mantra goes: trust but verify.
For no-code to work as advertised, organizations will need to adopt not just a hands-off attitude toward its implementation but full support. As we saw in the early days of the cloud, simply ignoring a change of this magnitude can undermine the very benefits the technology is supposed to provide, namely, cost, convenience and performance.
Transferring a task from the specialized few to the masses will open the floodgates of creativity, but floods can be devastating if not channeled properly.